Multiple Organizations Request CRTC Consultation Timeline Clarification

Multiple organizations have signed an open letter asking the CRTC for clarification on the consultation timeline moving forward.

It’s safe to say that there are numerous points of view in these CRTC consultations. This includes calls for flexibility on how contributions to the Canadian system will actually work in practice, demanding that revenues get redirected to a handful of legacy players, requests to do as little harm as possible to the online economy, or a push to wall off what is classified as “Canadian content” by demanding license payments be directed to specific organizations before proceeding with the production of content. There is, however, one thing that has seemingly united all of these perspectives: the fact that the consultation process on completely overhauling the broadcasting system has been a horrible mess.

Indeed, in May of last year, we reported on the CRTC releasing a timeline on the whole consultation process. At the time, the timeline was largely vague, talking about general portions of the year they expect these consultations to take place. The eyebrow raising aspect of all of this is that this still hasn’t changed almost a year later.

The consultation process has been the subject of very loud complaints already. Despite the CRTC Chair saying that she wants public feedback, the process has been anything but friendly to the public. While we were able to make submissions for not one, but two consultations, the process was seemingly designed to keep the public out of the process. This by relying on shoving stacks of reading material to prospective interveners and giving the public comically tight deadlines to make their submissions.

Understandably, this sparked outcry from pretty much everyone involved as various organizations requested extensions for those consultations so they could actually formulate a well thought out response. Those requests were largely denied. The intended effect worked as it led to negative effects on submissions. Some organizations simply submitted a simple response saying that they would like to appear and are unable to write a formal submission answering the questions the CRTC asked. If the desired effect was to keep the public out of the process, those efforts were quite successful.

For context, making the submissions that we did was extremely hard as it relied on my older skills as an English major to buzz through the reading material and offer a fast response anyway. You had no time to read things thoroughly or offer a response that is thought through many times over. The rough draft was ultimately a final draft because the deadline was Monday. What’s more, you couldn’t rely on the website being available at the last minute either as it was subject to infrequent downtime as well. If you were close to the deadline and the website submission form happened to be up, you submitted because you don’t know if it would be down at the last minute. If there happened to be errors in my submissions, well, that would be why. You were sprinting to make the deadline and just hoping that what was submitted made some sense.

The thing is, if you thought that these problems are over, well, you would be sadly mistaken. Several organizations are, once again, making a submission to the CRTC asking for clarifications on the timeline and criticizing the overlapping of some of those deadlines. In a submission (PDF), multiple interveners are asking for clarification on the timelines moving forward. From the PDF document:

The nine parties to this request note that, in addition to the final stages of the Consultation on contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system1 (2023-138), the Regulatory Plan sets out five consultations that the CRTC “may include” in the Winter 2023-2024 period:

  • Consultation on definitions of Canadian and Indigenous content
  • Consultation on tools to support Canadian music and other audio content
  • Consultation on programming and supports for video content
  • Consultation on local markets access [sic] and competition, and
  • Consultation on protecting Canadian consumers.

The CRTC’s Regulatory Plan says that the Commission is also “looking at how [it] can tailor [its] expectations of and requirements for different broadcasting services, including” the following three issues that at this time do not fit clearly within any of the six CRTC consultations either underway or waiting to be launched in 2024:

  • Funding to improve public participation in broadcasting processes;
  • CRTC’s approach to licensing and
  • Broadcasting industry fees.

This list of proceedings for 2024 also excludes Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – Various audio and audiovisual services – Licence renewals, Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2022-165 (Ottawa, 22 June 2022), referred back to the CRTC by the Governor in Council on 16 September 2022 for reconsideration and hearing.

The requestors are asking that the CRTC by 1 February 2024 publish clearer guidance about the timing of its 2024 proceedings. This guidance should include the estimated dates when the CRTC will issue its consultation notices as well as an indication as to which if any of the consultations will include a public-hearing component. The requestors understand that the CRTC may decide to vary this guidance after it is published: sections 7 and 10(a) of its Rules of Practice and Procedure provide for such changes, and the Federal Court held just over forty years ago that the Commission is “master of its own procedures” as long as it acts in good faith and considers fairly the views of all parties. The parties to this request ask the Commission to provide guidance about the estimated timing of the proceedings it has already announced it may hold in 2024, so that all parties are able to manage their limited resources more efficiently and effectively, thereby strengthening the procedural fairness of the CRTC’s proceedings.

FRPC, one of the signing organizations, noted how ridiculously tight the deadlines were already in the past:

#CRTC practice is to consult Canadians
In Let’s Talk TV interveners had avg of 53 days to file
In 2023 interveners in C-11 consult’ns had avg of 38 days to file (1/3 less time)
Yesterday 9 parties asked CRTC to clarify timing of C-11 consultations in 2024:

It’s kind of insane that the consultation timeline hasn’t been clarified yet. It really shouldn’t have gotten to this point where interveners are begging for dates to deadlines, but that is where we are at at this point.

What’s more, it’s bad enough that this is happening at all. It’s even worse that this is happening with a massive overhaul of a major piece of legislation – namely the Broadcasting Act. If anything, such a big legislative change should have brought with it more careful treading on trying to get this right. Instead, the CRTC seems to take on the position that such broad subjects should be rushed through the processes that are required and slamming through a decision as fast as possible. Getting it right? Well, that’s just an afterthought.

The letter was signed by FRPC, FRIENDS, Open Media, PIAC, Unifor, and PBC21 among others.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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